Can footballers upset Kerry?
It has probably been the most disappointing week Cork GAA supporters have endured in a long time. The minor and under 20 Munster and All-Ireland titles have been surrendered, the Munster under 20 football title is gone and barring a miracle, the senior hurlers are heading out of the championship.
How quickly things in sport can turn around; last year we were basking in the glory of success at various grades and then reaching the senior final suggested as Dermot Kennedy said “better days ahead” but we are here now in the first week of May and to all intents and purposes, Cork’s inter-county hurling season is over.
The hope now is that football can rescue the season with the minors and seniors still involved.
Munster Senior Football semi-final
Cork v Kerry at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday at 6pm
“It’s not been a distraction; the players and the group made their statement and then we just got on with preparing for the game irrespective of the venue,” Cork selector Des Cullinane said on the venue controversy surrounding this fixture.
Des also had words of praise for Kerry. “They’re our biggest rivals but also the counties have a good relationship and we appreciate the fact that they agreed to come to Páirc Uí Rinn.”
And what of Kerry, who actually trained at the venue last Saturday? Their Manager Jack O’Connor was giving little away: “No one wants a walkover into a final; we are just glad it’s resolved and we get on with our preparation.”
While he may have been entirely supportive of the decision, the wily O’Connor was giving nothing away. “We discussed it, conveyed our views to the board and then left it to them and carried on with our preparation.”
Injuries do rule out a few players but O’Connor is happy where they are. “We had a very good league and now the next task is the championship and that happens to be Cork next Saturday; we are ready and expect a tough test.”
As for injuries, Cork have had their fair share and the latest concern is key player Ian Maguire with Coach John Cleary effectively ruling the ‘Barr’s man out of the game. “Yes it looks like Ian will miss out and he’s a big player for us as a leader on and off he field, but that’s sport and you just have to get on with it.”
A point which selector Des Cullinane expanded on: “We have had our fair share of injuries especially during the league, but now some of these players are available to us and that has helped greatly.”
Among those back in the equation are “Brian Hayes who was excellent for the ‘Barr’s, Brian Hartnett and Sean Powter have all worked hard in recent weeks and when we sit down to pick our starting 15, we will have options.”
It was very important to stay in Division 2, as Des explained. “It was because if we lose on Saturday you are looking at Tailteann Cup instead of the All-Ireland Championship and for a county like Cork that’s not good enough.”
The last two wins over Down and Offaly were crucial: “very much so as it boosted the confidence of the players and helped us prepare with less pressure.”
Des while respectful to the absent Keith Ricken was fulsome in his praise for John Cleary. “While naturally we wish Keith well and hope he is back with us soon, John has been brilliant. He has vast experience with club and county and that he has brought that into this squad and the players have responded accordingly.”
For John himself he did not expect to find himself in this position, but has just got on with it. “It happened so quickly. To be fair, Keith had a lot of work done and the structures were in place and I just picked it up and carried on and the players they are great to deal with.”
In recent weeks Cork have played games against Tipperary, Cavan and Clare, and Des was pleased at how they went. They “got a lot of game time into players and worked on a few things that we were trying in training and happy at how things turned out.
“We are under no illusions about this game, Kerry were comfortable winners of Division 1, make no secret of their ambitions this year, and they have quality all over the field.”
Yet, there is the fact that it’s a Cork v Kerry game: “Kerry are favourites but we going to give it our best shot and hopefully the Cork supporters will turn up in numbers and we can give them something to shout about.”
The composition of the Cork team will be interesting Micheál Aodh Martin is the established number 1, but picking the defence will be challenging given the quality of the Kerry attack.
The Clifford brothers David and Paudie, Paul Geaney and Adrian Spillane and possibly Seán O’Shea offer a clear indication of the options open to Jack O’Connor.
Kevin O’Donovan, John Cooper, Rory Maguire and Mattie Taylor should all feature they will need to be at the top of their game from the off if they are to contain this unit. Kerry scored 3-19 in that league final win over Mayo, they have the potential to do serious damage.
If as expected Ian Maguire misses out, who will Cork start there? Brian Hayes, Brian Hartnett and Colm O’Callaghan are among the options, but Maguire’s experience and work rate will be missed.
Steven Sherlock is key in the Cork attack, Cathal O’Mahoney could feature and will Sean Powter start conscious of the amount of game time he’s been denied owing to injury? Brian Hurley’s form of late in training and matches has been good.
The facts are quite simple, Kerry are odds on favourites to win and with a bit to spare, so for Cork they need to stay in the game as long as possible to make it competitive.
Allow Kerry build up an early advantage could make it a long evening for Cork and their supporters.
The one difference this year to the last two is that, even if they lose, Cork’s season is not over as they will enter the qualifiers.
A damaging defeat will not help, but a strong seventy minutes will give them something to build on for the next game be it a Munster Final on 28 May or more likely a qualifier on the weekend of 4/5 June.
The game will be live on C103.
Hurling in a poor place
As mentioned earlier it’s been a tough week and how the seniors can pick it for the trip to Walsh Park in two weeks time will test players and management alike.
There is a slim chance Cork can still qualify but as Kieran Kingston pointed out, “it is now outside our control, we have to win our games and then depend on other results going our way”.
The last three losses will have dented the confidence of the squad while the style of hurling they are playing has not endeared them to the supporters, who to be fair who were there in big numbers last Sunday.
The first 25 minutes last Sunday was as poor I have seen in a long time; the time and space Clare had on the ball was worrying and they showed their quality with some lovely points.
Even when they were reduced to 14, it was Clare who responded better scoring 3 quick points, which was a sure sign that the confidence was in short supply in the Cork squad and while the margin at the end was only 2 points, it was far more emphatic then that.
You could have the scenario that in three weeks time, two of the game’s biggest names Cork and Tipperary will conclude the round-robin series, with nothing to play for in front of a near deserted Semple Stadium.
Final thought - would the outcome have been different had the game been played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh? A bigger Cork crowd, a team fighting back might have unhinged Clare - the answer is we will never know.
Let’s hope the lessons have been learned and going forward a similar scenario will be avoided.
The minors loss on Tuesday was very disappointing as Cork looked very impressive in their win over Limerick a couple of weeks ago, but when you shoot 21 wides, 13 in the first half - you are going to find it hard to win.
Equally Cork’s style was hard to watch - an obsession with short passing, especially across the field, when direct approach might have worked better.
It is somewhat ironic that having got back into the game and been level at half-time, a short puck early in the second half gifted Clare a goal, that ultimately proved the difference between winning and losing, and had Cork won they would have been guaranteed at least 3 more games that would surely have brought the team on.
An opportunity lost.